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How Life Got Lonely In Tahrir Square

Once the symbol of national unity, Cairo's central square has become a mix of camped-out revolution holdouts and pent-up bursts of violence. Has this instantly iconic location too quickly lost its historical significance? Or does Tahrir just reflect the revolution's messy aftermath?

Article illustrative image Partner logo An Egytian family has their say in Tahrir Square on March 9 (Gigi Ibrahim)

CAIRO - A little over a year after becoming a national symbol of unity, Tahrir Square has become a very lonely place.

Amid the complete absence of the state in the iconic square, those who chose to continue residing here feel abandoned and isolated. The public often blames the square’s residents for harming the revolution that the holdouts say they’ve been camping out for months to save.

Most of those who filled Tahrir last year to force then President Hosni Mubarak to step down have left, either believing that they have already won the battle or that Tahrir is no longer the way to advance the revolution.

A few remain there in small groups with different motivations, all believing that the square is the only place that has yielded gains throughout the past year. Within these groups, there is little trust in the political process beyond the confines of the square.

In the grassless roundabout, Mekheimar Khamis Mekheimar, who was shot on January 28, 2011, dubbed the Friday of Anger, sits in front of his tent looking at a symbolic grave he made for himself.

The headstone reads, “I will not live without freedom, this is my grave, down with military rule.”

“We started our sit-in demanding our rights as the injured of the revolution," said Mekheimar. "But when we were attacked, our demand became the fall of the military rule.” 

The sit-in has entered its fourth month, sustained by less than a dozen mourners. It started on November 18 with a mass protest that Islamists mobilized against the supra-constitutional principles proposed by former deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmy. The bill was dubbed as an attempt by the military-backed government to impose the vision of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on the state.

Following the protest, the sit-in held by the injured of the revolution to demand their rights was attacked by the police, instigating a bloody four-day standoff between police forces and protesters who came to the aid of those attacked.

Since then, the square filled up during days of violent confrontations and the occasional million man protests, after which people went back home. But Mekheimar and his group have stayed in the square for the duration.

With governments that have failed — over the course of a year — to implement any major reforms, and a parliamentary performance that revolutionary forces deem disappointing, those in the square express a loss of faith in the formal political channels, which are viewed by many as a legitimate replacement of the square.

Other agendas

“We became completely separated from parties and political powers because they are only interested in leadership and power,” says Mekheimar. “Until the day I die I will keep calling for the demands of the revolution from the street and not in an office in a suit and tie.” 

Not everyone in Tahrir Square is sticking to the demands of the revolution though; some went there with demands that they can’t take anywhere else.

A small group known by the name of its leader, Dr. Omar, is camped out in Tahrir Square demanding the excavation of a tomb under building number 21 on Nour Foundation Street in the Zaytoun area, which, according to their interpretation of one Quranic verse, holds the name of the next president.

A Nasserist group that is in the process of founding a new party, “The Popular Nasserist Conference,” is also camped out in the square, promising a revolution inspired by former President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Having set up a stage, complete with a big screen television showing nationalist songs and a photo gallery, every night in the square since the anniversary of the revolution on 25 January, the group raises the reform demands of the revolution, in addition to cancelling the Camp David peace treaty with Israel and expelling the Israeli Ambassador from Egypt.

Abandoned by political forces and the state since November, Tahrir residents function as a state within the state.

“Everyone here melted into one society where the good and the bad mix. Our society is not based on any discrimination, we only reject those that harm our interests and don’t abide by the peacefulness of the sit-in,” says activist Mostafa Aly.

Read the full article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

Photo - Gigi Ibrahim


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